Snapping Turtle
The personal blog of David W. Guth
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Testudo's Tales from 2012

Vol. 6 No. 72 -- The Optics of Leadership
December 28, 2012

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As our elected officials in Washington engage in a political mud fight over the federal debt and the impending fiscal cliff, it is important to remember that it is all about the optics. These so-called leaders are more interested in creating perceptions of doing the people's work than actually doing it.  That's why both Republicans and Democrats have decided that it is much better to reach the new year without a budget deal that would avoid the draconian effects of sequestration. To compromise on taxes or social program cuts before New Year's Day would involve elected officials taking politically difficult votes. By waiting until after the automatic cuts and taxes hikes take effect, Democrats can claim they restored some - but not all - of the social program cuts and the Republicans can say they they restored some -- but not all -- of the tax cuts. It's a clever dodge. But it is also cowardice and cynically self-serving.  For our leaders - President Obama included - to talk up the danger of the so-called "fiscal cliff" as an functional equivalent to Armageddon, only to come back later and say it wasn't as big a deal as they indicated undermines public confidence in our leaders.  However, they don't see it that way. All members of the executive and legislative branches justify their actions by saying they were elected by a majority of their constituents. While that is true, they cannot justify undermining public faith in democracy by confusing sleight-of-hand with true leadership. And if that undermined faith sparks another recession, will these optics of leadership have been worth it? The President, in particular, bears the burden of bringing the two parties together on a budget compromise.  After all, he's the only person in Washington no longer burdened by worries of reelection.  If Obama wants to have a legacy of leadership, now is his opportunity. It is time for him to "bust heads" -- including those of intransigent Democrats like Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. If Obama truly meant that he wants to bring change to Washington, now is his chance.  However, if he continues to lead from behind - his motis operandi of the past four years - then the American people will be forced to pay the price for his callous cowardice.
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That's it for now. Fear the Turtle.
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Vol. 6 No. 71 -- Does Anyone Know?
December 17, 2012

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In the days since learning the news of the horrific murders in Newtown, Connecticut, a line from a Gordon Lightfoot ballad has echoed within me. In The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, Lightfoot hauntingly asks, "Does anyone know where the love of God goes when the waves turn minutes to hours?" The Canadian balladeer's song is about the 1975 sinking of a Great Lakes freighter. But its sentiment seems to starkly fit today's tragedy of a young man named Adam Lanza descending from despair into evil. We all sat last Friday in stunned anguish and asked ourselves "how could this happen?" Yes, the answer is complicated and there is no one "easy fix." Yes, this is about guns. And yes, it is about mental health.  It is also about a culture of violence, and not just that shamelessly promoted by Hollywood and video game makers. All one has to do is watch the evening news, where the old tome "if it bleeds, it leads" still stands true. Yes, there is a lot to address in this cause-and-effect chaos, but that is not an excuse for analysis paralysis.  There are things we can do right now to make this a safer world for our children. For example, how is it we have low tolerance for other nations developing weapons of mass destructions when we have more than 300 million guns on America's streets threatening our annihilation from within? Sure, there's the Second Amendment. But if there are reasonable limits on the other nine amendments in the Bill of Rights, why is the Second Amendment sacrosanct? Outside of the military and security and public safety officers, no one has a legitimate need for automatic weapons. The very possession of these weapons is an assault on common sense and should be a crime. As for addressing mental health needs, this is not a time to be killing programs in favor of cutting taxes.  If you ask most taxpayers, they would much rather we take affirmative steps to halt the creation of people destroyers like Adam Lanza than line the pockets of so-called "job creators" like Donald Trump. And in our newsrooms and studios and computer labs, isn't it time we own-up to the damaging role we play? When we dehumanize life by reducing it to points in a video game, a movie promo or a bumper on the nightly news, don't we diminish our own humanity? Does anyone know where the love of God goes when the waves turn the minutes to hours?
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That's it for now. Fear the Turtle.
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Vol. 6 No. 70 -- The Best Day of My Life
December 13, 2012

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I remember it as if it were only yesterday. But it was December 1983. In those days, I was usually the one who went to bed first, and with good reason.  I was the morning anchor on the North Carolina News Network, a statewide radio network, and I usually went to work at four in the morning. But on this particular Monday night, I was staying up to watch the end of a boring football game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  (The Chiefs won a battle of fields goals, 9-6.) I was taking Tuesday off from work, which meant I could, for once, actually watch the second half of Monday Night Football. Jan, my very pregnant wife, was having a hard time getting to sleep. We had visited the doctor earlier in the day and were told that it would be another week before the baby would come. So when the game ended around 12:30 a.m., I went to bed and Jan stayed up to watch television. I wasn't in bed very long when Jan announced that she was having labor pains.  It wasn't until 8:31 p.m. that six-pound eight ounce Susan Elizabeth Guth entered the world at the Wake Medical Center in Raleigh. After years of trying - and crying - we were finally parents. Babies are precious gifts mothers and fathers give one another. And this particular baby proved to be one who was very special. Sure, there were the occasional test-of-wills between parents and child - just ask Susan someday about the "green beans incident." There was also the time when after her parents had lectured her on her grades that she marched off to her room after announcing that our dog, Rusty, "is the only one who understands me." Despite these little parent-child dramas that crop up in every household, there hasn't been a day that Susan's parents were not proud of her. From her graduation from kindergarten to receiving her degree from the University of Oklahoma, her parents watched in joyous wonder as their daughter grew from a child to a woman. When her mother passed away unexpectedly, Susan took it on herself to see to it that her father was OK. I was too worried about her to realize that she was worried about me. It took me some time to realize that - dads are often the last ones to know what's really going on.  But I know that now and am grateful to have been blessed with such a loving daughter.  I also know her mother's spirit is with her and will always be proud of her. So here we are: I just turned 60 and my daughter today turns 29. Almost three decades have passed since that early morning in Garner, North Carolina. I will always think of December 13, 1983, as the best day of my life.  And I remember it as if it were only yesterday.
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That's it for now. Fear the Turtle.
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Vol. 6 No. 69 -- A Look Before We Leap
December 9, 2012

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If you pay an even modest amount of attention to the news, you cannot escape the fact that this country is on the verge of an economic crisis. If the Congress cannot agree on some kind of formula for reducing the federal budget deficit by December 31, a series of draconian measures, the so-called fiscal cliff, will automatically take effect. Much of the focus of the news has been on the effect these automatic cuts would have on social safety net programs and the U.S. military. However, if you spend a few minutes with an online fiscal cliff calculator created by creditcards.com, you will soon realize that the political stalemate in Washington will have a direct effect on your own pocketbook. Let us look at three examples. If you are single and making $40,000 a year, your taxes will go up by $80, a 48 percent increase. For the average U.S. household, with an estimated annual income of $52,762, the federal tax bill would rise by $2,338, some 33 percent. Or, let's say you are a married couple of empty-nesters with an annual income of $100,000. Your tax bill would go up by $5,458, approximately 30 percent. This is the real price tag that comes with political stalemate. Many of us view cuts to social programs or the military as something that affects somebody else. However, these figures clearly show that practically every American will feel the pinch that comes with jumping off the fiscal cliff. And these estimates do not take into account additional burdens forced upon us by revenue hungry state and local governments. It is painfully obvious that the United States of America has been living beyond its means for too long. It is also painfully obvious that our taxes will be going up. But if anyone thinks that the deficit will be reduced by just taxing the rich, they should remember the words of former president Bill Clinton. In remarks at an economic forum last spring, Clinton noted that the federal government would bring in a lot more in tax revenues by taxing the middle class an additional 8 percent than it would taxing millionaires 100 percent. I don't know about you, but if my taxes are about to rise, I would rather they increase following a learned congressional debate than as a result of cowardly, spineless budget cuts triggered randomly because of a congressional failure to reach agreement. And let us not forget, that the rest of the world, including those who wish us harm, are carefully watching this budgetary drama unfold. They will see our inaction as an opportunity to challenge our interests and undermine our values. This is a time of maximum danger for our country. The president and members of Congress recently fought hard to be reelected. We gave them our votes. Now, they owe us. Addressing this budgetary crisis, not as partisans, but as Americans, is needed now more than ever. And the American people expect and demand no less.
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That's it for now. Fear the Turtle.
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Vol. 6 No. 68 -- Still a Bad Idea
December 3, 2012

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There are time when the newspapers delivered to one's doorstep bring a convergence of headlines that demonstrate the ironic absurdity of life in these United States.  Yesterday was such as day. As one might have expected, the front page of the Kansas City Star was dominated by the tragic murder-suicide involving a member of the Kansas City Chiefs and his 22-year-old girlfriend.  It's a difficult story to comprehend, one of a moment of insanity when Jovan Belcher murdered Kasandra Perkins followed by a moment of desperation when Belcher turned the gun on himself. That story, in and of itself, is distressing. But then I picked up the Lawrence Journal-World and read a story about a Kansas state senator who will try again to change the law to allow people with permits to carry concealed weapons on college campuses and in public buildings. “We can trust the average Kansan to carry a deadly weapon,” said Rep. Forrest Knox, R-Altoona. “It is not the weapon that is evil; it is criminals that misuse weapons.” To that bumper-sticker mentality, I'd say, "Yes. My point exactly." With a gun, it just takes just one moment of anger, misjudgment or insanity to end a life. Frankly, I question the mental health of anyone working outside of law enforcement, security and the military who feels his or she must carry a gun with them at all times. As you may recall, I wrote about this misguided miscreant Knox in February (Vol. 6 No. 8). What was a bad idea is still a bad idea now. Where is the social gain in passing such ludicrous legislation? How are the public's needs really served? Is turning civil society into an armed camp the greater good?  This isn't Dodge City of Matt Dillon's days.  So why risk turning every campus and public building in Kansas into the home version of Gunsmoke? I hope the state senate, to which Knox was elected last month, has the sense to flush his legislation into the sewer of bad ideas where it belongs. However, thanks to Governor Brownback's war on moderates, the incoming senate is far more conservative and gun-friendly. We will just have to hold our breathe and hope we don't draw fire - literally - from some gun-toting lunatic legislator.
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That's it for now. Fear the Turtle.
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Vol. 6 No. 67 -- Impending Doom
December 1, 2012

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Can you feel it? A sense of impending doom is in the air. No, I am not talking about the football game between the 1 and 10 Kansas Jayhawks and West Virginia later today.  Today is December 1, and by the Mayans' reckoning, we have only three weeks left on this Earth.  It seems the winter solstice will bring our planet in line with the center of the galaxy and that the Earth will experience a sudden gravitational reversal - or something like that. I don't know if there's any truth to all of that. And last I checked, there are no Mayans around to either confirm or deny anything.  If the end of the world isn't a big enough problem confronting us, we also have this so-called fiscal cliff approaching. The fiscal cliff is a series of draconian cuts to military spending and social safety net programs that go into effect on month from today if Congress can not agree on measures to cut the federal budget deficit. On top of that, everyone's taxes will go up, even for those who are Romney rich. Sure, we've been told that democrat and republican leaders are working frantically to reach a compromise.  But we have also been told that extremists in both parties, such as Nancy Peolisi and most Tea Party-types, would prefer that we go over the fiscal cliff. (By the way, haven't the Democrats already driven themselves over the cliff by electing two-time loser Pelosi as house majority leader?) Yes, all of this is boo-scary.  But that's nothing compared to the sense of doom I get from the thing I fear the most - Christmas shopping. It's a jungle out there! Of course, if the Mayans were right, Christmas is a moot issue. Hey - I am feeling better already!
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That's it for now. Fear the Turtle.
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Vol. 6 No. 66 -- Maryland on the Move
November 19, 2012

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As a proud graduate of the University of Maryland, I cannot claim to have any inside knowledge of the decision-making process that led to today's stunning announcement that the Terrapins are leaving the Atlantic Coast Conference some 59 years after becoming a charter member. I can, however, as a Maryland fan, give you some sense of how I feel about the Terps’ move to the Big 10 Conference in 2014. On the one hand, there is a degree of sadness. The ACC has been Maryland’s conference home for almost my entire life. I have many great memories of clashes with conference opponents in a variety of sports. For example, the Maryland-N.C State ACC Tournament final in 1974 is arguably the greatest game ever played.  It certainly forced the NCAA to finally expand its now signature March Madness field. The Terps have won 35 national championships in seven sports -- most of them under the ACC banner. However, on the other hand, the school’s administrators have been forced to address some tough realities. It is their judgment that the university’s best course for securing the financial future of its athletic programs lies within the Big Ten. While Maryland is a decidedly Eastern school, very different from its new Midwestern brethren, College Park is far more similar to University Park, Bloomington, and Champaign than it is with Raleigh, Clemson and Blacksburg. While there are excellent universities within the ACC, the Big 10 Conference provides Maryland students and faculty significantly more academic financial support than currently available. That, along with projected significant increases in athletic revenue, makes the move to the Big Ten look attractive and inevitable. I am not thrilled at the prospect of leaving Maryland's traditional rivals, but I am not frightened about charging ahead into new territories and new adventures, either. It is what it is and nothing I say will change it. So why not embrace the change and, as the Big 10 commissioner said today, embrace the Terps in their new habitat?
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That's it for now. Fear the Turtle.
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Vol. 6 No. 65 -- You Say You Want a Revolution?
November 14, 2012

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It is been 150 years since the Civil War, and there are still lessons we can learn. However, there are other lessons from that struggle that would seem to be both quite obvious and completely settled, especially the one which says that if you're unhappy with the direction your country is going you can't pick up your marbles, go away and take your country with you. Unfortunately, there are thousands of our citizens that don't seem to grasp that concept. I am referring, of course, to the recent trend of secessionist movements that have sprung up across the United States following the reelection of President Obama. At last count, malcontents in 23 states, including my own Kansas,  have circulated petitions calling for their state to succeed from the union and form its own country. Essentially, these people do not like President Obama and are distressed about a future under his continued leadership. They also hate the Health Care Affordability Act (Obamacare) and the president's desire to trim the budget deficit through a balanced approach of cuts and taxes. Amazingly, these people believe that the president is un-American. However, the very act of seceding from the union is at the very least un-American, and one could argue that it is treasonous. If you believe in America and American democracy, then you have to accept the entire package: majority rule, representative government, federal oversight for the general welfare, and yes, even taxes. Isn't it ironic that at a time in our nation is poised to celebrate one of our greatest leaders with the release of the film Lincoln, thousands of our brothers and sisters would much rather follow the path of that flaming slave-holding idiot Jefferson Davis? Well, as they say, this is a free country. If these misguided souls wish to leave the nation, let them. However, they should be required to buy a ticket and go away. They may leave the country, but they don't get to take their country with them. Adios, suckers.
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That's it for now. Fear the Turtle.
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Vol. 6 No. 64 -- Veteran's Day
November 11, 2012

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I am not an idealist, but I can be idealistic. While I believe there is no such thing as a "good war,"  I believe some wars are just and necessary. I am also keenly aware that I am not a veteran of the armed services of the United States.  I graduated from high school in 1970, time when there was still an active military draft.  My draft number wasn't drawn, so I didn't have to serve. And with the Vietnam war still raging, I wasn't about to voluntarily jump into the fray. Our leaders had failed to clarify our national interest in Southeast Asia and I was damned certain that I wasn't going to embark on a fool's errand. But this does not mean that I do not have anything but a world of respect for my contemporaries who served our nation during that miserable war with dignity, only to be scorned on their return home.  America is a much different place than it was 40 years ago.  While most people are war-weary and wish our engagement in Afghanistan would end, we have learned to not take out our frustrations on the men and women who have served our nation there with courage and dignity. If anything good came out of the quagmire of Vietnam, that was it. Still, it was a horrible price to pay for a lesson we already knew in our hearts.  That is why I and many of my fellow citizens take every opportunity we have to thank the men and women in uniform for their service.  That also is why we must all be willing to care and comfort the children, spouses, families and friends of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our nation.  It is fitting that a week which began with a contentious election now ends with a silent and solemn observance of those who sacrificed so much to perserve our freedoms.  We should honor them on this and every day through civil social engagement.
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That's it for now. Fear the Turtle.
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Vol. 6 No. 63 -- The Lesson of Campaign 2012
November 7, 2012

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Barack Obama won reelection this evening because of a superior ground game - the best in history.  He basically took a page out of George W. Bush's 2004 reelection play book: Obama appealed almost entirely to his base. The upside: He won. The downside - a lesson Bush learned the hard way - was that he willfully accepted the political status quo, a deeply divided country. The campaign did nothing to heal that divide. That isn't entirely Obama's fault. Nor was it Bush's. Those were the political cards they were dealt.  But now, the President has to avoid Bush's error of mistaking a narrow victory as a broad mandate. So as not to repeat history, President Obama has to launch a new campaign to heal the nation. He really has no choice. Facing a budget sequestration with draconian cuts, the President and his allies in the Senate will have to come to terms with the Republican-controlled House. That doesn't mean Obama has to cow-tow to the GOP. But he cannot display the same level of arrogance he did during the failed budget negotiations in summer 2011. After all, the House members were also elected to lead. Speaking of arrogance, the Republicans will have to dial back their own dogmatic rhetoric. If they ever expect to govern again, they need to take a hard look at themselves.  Their anti-immigration and anti-women rhetoric came back to haunt them in this election, as did their pig-headed approach to tax cuts.  I agree with the pundits who say the Republicans lost this election during the protracted primary season.  By refusing to raise any taxes -- including, most famously, when all of the candidates said they could not accept a deal in which cuts outnumbered tax increases by a 10-1 margin -- they painted themselves into a nasty corner. The Republican Party has branded itself as the party of the greedy, heartless rich. It is seen as a party of the intolerant, the unforgiving and as a "whites only" club. As the Republicans look ahead to the future, they must wonder if they really have one.  They don't, if they do not recognize the diverse mosaic America has become. George W. Bush understood this. And, in his heart of hearts, I believe Mitt Romney did as well. However, Bush failed to get his party to follow him on a humane path to citizenship for undocumented resident aliens.  Romney's sin was that he didn't even try. That's why Latinos overwhelmingly voted for Obama.  They also have to divorce themselves from the narrow-minded Tea Party, which hijacked the GOP agenda and singlehandedly cost the Republicans a chance to win control of the Senate. So what is the lesson of Campaign 2012? It is that the country's politics are broken and that now is the time for tonight's winners to act with humility, for the losers to graciously accept the judgment of their fellow citizens and for all of our leaders call a cease-fire to two decades of partisan bickering.  We Americans are much better than that. We deserve better than that.  It is a time for all good men and women come to the aid of their country.
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That's it for now. Fear the Turtle.
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Vol. 6 No. 62 -- And The Winner Is...
November 2, 2012

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I'll bet you are dying to know who will win Tuesday's presidential election.  I know, and I'll be glad to tell you late Sunday afternoon. By then the score of the Washington Redskins and Carolina Panthers game will be final, then we will all know. That's because presidential election lore has it that the incumbent wins reelection if the Redskins win their last home game before the election. That means the fate of the union now rests in the capable hands -- as well as arms and legs -- of Carolina's Cam Newton and Washington's Robert Griffin III.  Who knew that a couple of Heisman Trophy winners have that much power - especially since their two teams have a combined record of four wins and 11 loses? The Redskins - the "Democrat" team -- have a QB with less experience than his "Republican" counterpart.  So the football electoral model doesn't fit -- unless that experience we are talking about is business experience. Then it is, pardon the pun, a whole other ballgame.  In some ways, this political myth makes sense. Obama is a sure bet to win Washington, D.C.'s three electoral votes. That makes him a good fit to pin his hopes on the Redskins.  Carolina - North and South - are likely to go into the Romney column election night. While Mitt may win the Electoral vote battle at FedEx Field 24-3, odds makers have given the home team a three and one-half point edge.  The Panthers and the Redskins both have underperformed in recent years, as have Barack and Mitt.  And both teams are going to need a good ground game (get out the vote effort) with a strong aerial assault (TV commercials) to win the day (or election night). So does this "Redskins myth" carry any weight? I don't know. But if I were a Democrat and wanted Obama to hear "Hail to the Chief" on January 21, I'd start singing "Hail to the Redskins" right away.
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That's it for now. Fear the Turtle.
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Vol. 6 No. 61 -- October Surprise
October 31, 2012

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There's a cruel wind blowing this Halloween, and her name is Sandy.  She has been called "Superstorm Sandy" and "Frankenstorm," but, in many ways, she is 2012's version of the "Perfect Storm." A convergence of two weather systems and lunar high tides has left much of the Eastern seaboard in a shambles. At the time of this writing, approximately three dozen deaths have been reported and property damage has been estimated at between $20-30 billion dollars - and that may be conservative. Millions of people were at some time or another without power - and many still are and will be for days. Sandy is more than a late season hurricane or a nor'easter - she's also a political storm. Both President Obama and Governor Romney temporarily have stopped campaigning, although they have thought of other ways to get their faces on television. With less than a week to go in the election, this scenario plays into President Obama's hands.  Sandy's storm surge may have the unintended effect of halting Romney's surge in the polls.  Instead, everything is put on hold for a few days and the President gets to look presidential in directing the government's response.  This is not a criticism of Obama - it is just a fact of life. Incumbents are always at the advantage when they get to be seen doing their jobs, especially during crises. Another fact of life is that Obama will eventually come under criticism for an inadequate response - all incumbents do. However, that will likely come after next Tuesday, doing Mitt Romney absolutely no good.  This year's October surprise is Sandy. And in the parlance of the season, she may prove to be more of a trick for Romney and a treat for Obama.
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That's it for now. Fear the Turtle.
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Vol. 6 No. 60 -- My Choice - 2012
October 24, 2012

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When all is said and done, Campaign 2012 hasn’t given the American voter much of a choice. It boils down to the choice between the guy who made a bunch of promises four years ago that he was unable to keep and a fellow who is making promises that common sense tells us he will be unable to keep. Four years ago, I voted for Barack Obama because I thought he represented real change. It appeared as if he had a mandate to eliminate the poisonous tone in Washington.  Four years later, the rancor is even worse – and much of the blame rests with him. Reasonable people question whether the job is too big for Obama. And his campaign's just-published "plan" for the future - a vision he should have articulated months ago - isn't really a plan and reeks of desperation. Eight years ago, I thought Mitt Romney was a moderate voice on the rise within Republican ranks. However, with the prevailing breeze within the GOP blowing to the right, Romney’s moderate positions are pretty much gone with the wind. In recent weeks, he has tried to move back toward the center, as has President Obama.  While I understand the difficulty both candidates face in trying to appease extremists in both of their parties, I cannot really trust what either one of them says these days. Both men are diminished in my eyes, leaving me wishing for a viable alternative and wondering if this is really the best we can do? I suppose the easy way out would be to not cast a ballot for president this year. However, how can I sit on the sidelines and demand that our leaders make tough decisions if I am not willing to do the same? It doesn’t matter that by living in Kansas, my vote won’t really make a difference. This is a “Red State” and nothing I say or write will change that on Election Day. However, I will know how I voted – and that will mean something to me. Despite any misgivings I may have, I believe that both men are basically decent human beings who believe they can do what is best for the nation. So it comes down to this: Has Barack Obama earned the right to serve another four years or is it time to bring in another guy to give it a shot?  Maybe Romney is truly a closet moderate. But is that hope reason enough to ignore the conservative babble he has been spouting since he first began running for President? While Obama’s performance during his first four years has been anything but stellar, he has been forced to confront a combative and reactionary Congress. Only one party leader on the Hill, Speaker John Boehner, has appeared willing to compromise. But the same forces that blocked Obama’s initiatives also shackled him. I think Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell are a bigger problem than the man in the White House. It is on this basis that I give President Obama a low passing grade, as well as my vote for another four years in office.
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That's it for now. Fear the Turtle.
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Vol. 6 No. 59 -- Three Up, Three Down
October 22, 2012

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I don't believe tonight's presidential debate substantially changed the trajectory of this race.  That's because foreign policy is way down the list of what people say are important in this election. That's why Barack Obama and Mitt Romney pivoted their answers to the economy every chance they got.  Because Obama is the Commander in Chief, he had the home field advantage in this debate. Despite that, Governor Romney held his own.  I did not catch any major gaffes by either candidate. That's not to say they didn't have their moments. Romney was very effective in correcting Obama's misrepresentations on statements he made about Russia and on the government's handling of the automakers' bailout. However, Obama effectively got in his digs on Romney's business relationships with China. And Romney still has to explain to my satisfaction how we cut taxes, build up the military and reduce the deficit. However, Romney may have accomplished his most important goal of the night. He didn't come across as the crazy bomb-thrower Obama had hoped to portray him. In fact, Romney sounded presidential - at least to those willing to listen.  But that's the rub: The number of people who are still listening is declining as we get closer to election day. There are still some undecided - and I am among them. Tonight's debate did not do anything to make my decision easier. I still have serious doubts about both men. There was no winner tonight - except for, maybe, Bob Schieffer. However, as this year's debates come to a close, there is one undeniable fact: Mitt Romney benefited from them far more than President Obama. He is much closer to beating the President than he was at the beginning of October. Whether it is enough to change the Electoral College math that currently favors Obama, I still have my doubts.  Romney may have won the debate battle, but Obama is still favored to win the war.
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That's it for now. Fear the Turtle.
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Vol. 6 No. 58 -- Romney Prevails
October 16, 2012

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President Obama clearly got his wake-up call.  He was more aggressive in tonight's presidential debate than he was in his absymal performance in the first. He called former Governor Romney's facts into question several times, most notably on their exchange over when the Obama administration characterized the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi as an act of terrorism. But despite his improved stage presence, Obama still faced the same problem he did in his first debate - he didn't answer the questions. For example, why wasn't the consultate's request for beefed up security left unanswered? That, to me, is a far more important question than who said what when. The President got in some good lines - calling Romney's economic proposals a "sketchy deal" being my favorite. However, when it came to "sketchy" promises, Romney nailed Obama.  In the strongest statement of the night, Romney chronicled the litany of promises the President made in 2008 upon which he failed to deliver.  Most devastating was Romney's question about immigration reform. Obama can't claim Republican interference on the issue when he did not even offer the legislation that he promised Latino voters he would introduce in his first year in office.  I didn't care for the debate format, which allowed a candidate responding to a question to make an outrageous claim, knowing full well he would then get to answer to the next question before his opponent would speak. By the time the other guy had the opportunity to rebut those claims, it would appear as if he were backtracking and off issue.  That happened during the China trade policy exchanges to Obama's temporary advantage. However, Romney eventually nailed Obama on that one, too. Obama has repeatedly demagogued Romney's business ties to China. It was smart for Romney to remind voters that Obama, too, through his retirement portfolio, has similar ties.  I am tempted to call tonight's debate a draw.  But Obama needed more than a draw. He is now trailing Romney by four points among likely voters in the latest Gallup Poll.  Swing states that had been settling into the President's column are now back in play.  Four years ago, when Obama essentially achieved a draw in his last debate with John McCain, I said that a tie goes to the front runner. If that was true then, it must be true now.
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That's it for now. Fear the Turtle.
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Vol. 6 No. 57 -- The Under Card
October 11, 2012

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Perhaps it was the intimate format.  Or maybe it was the firm, but calming presence of Martha Raddatz. However, tonight's vice presidential debate had fewer fireworks than I expected.  My impression was that Vice President Biden probably outscored Congressman Ryan on debating points.  However, there were no knockout punches and both got in a few zingers. Biden clearly has a more comfortable stage persona. He seems more sincere talking to the camera. His age also lent him an aura of credibility over his young, less polished opponent.  However, there were a few times when Joey from Scranton was condescending and snarly - a problem his boss had in his less-than-spectacular performance last week. For the most part, Ryan held his own.  And he wouldn't let Joey from Scranton bully him. (I could almost imagine an adolescent Joey trying bully away little Pauly's marbles on a hard-scrapple Irish Catholic-school playground.) There was actually one point during the debate that Biden wanted to quarrel with Raddatz. She deftly deflected it and the moment passed.  Four years ago, I felt that Joe Biden won a narrow victory over Sarah Palin in their veepfest. However - and this was the key - neither Biden or Palin did their side any real harm.  The same thing happened tonight.  I suspect both sides are happy with the performance of their guy. Biden may not have hurt the Democratic ticket, but there was nothing he could do tonight to repair the damage done by Obama's abysmal debate performance.  Only the President can do that. And for all his muscular boyish charm, blue-eyed Paul was only a stand-in for steely eyed Mitt. This was the under card. The real fight - round two, you could say - comes in a town hall format at Hofstra University next Tuesday. And this time, Obama had better answer the bell.
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That's it for now. Fear the Turtle.
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Vol. 6 No. 56 -- The Punditocracy versus the Jockocracy
October 9, 2012

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As one who has previously made a living talking and writing about sports and politics, I am often struck by the similarities found in both activities. "Punditocracy" is defined as the group of real and self-identified political experts who use the media to espouse their opinions. "Jockocracy" is a term created by the late Howard Cosell to describe former athletes (or athletic wannabes) who infest newspapers and television talking about upon sports - even those sports they never played.  (Terry Gannon, a starter on the 1983 North Carolina State NCAA basketball championship team, is ABC's figure skating commentator. Go figure.)  While there are individuals within both camps who break the mold and deserve our admiration (David Gurgan and Bob Costas come to mind), many of these "experts" are not shy about proclaiming their expertise at the top of their lungs.  (Chris Matthews and Steven A. Smith.) They are passionate about their opinions and are intolerant of those who do not share them (Ed Schultz and Jim Rome). Many of those advising politicians or coaches on how best to do their jobs were spectacularly unsuccessful in the same roles (Donna Brazile and Matt Millen). While the punditocracy generally has a greater demand of the English language than former athletes (or, as they like to pronounce it, ath-a-leets), the jockocracy is less likely to use its language skills to obfuscate the truth.  (Rich Gannon and Bill O'Reilly) Perhaps the greatest common thread is the lack of substance these talking heads bring to social discourse.  Too often they confuse heat with light, opinion with facts, and fantasy with reality. Just ask yourself this question: Would the public discourse improve if the Al Sharptons, Rush Limbaughs, Skip Baylesses and Jason Whitlocks of the world kept their muddled opinions to themselves? My answer: Sure it would!  Of course, you should keep in mind that I also am a card-carrying member of the punditocracy and jockocracy.  At least I know the difference between politics, sports and real life.
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That's it for now. Fear the Turtle.
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Vol. 6 No. 55 -- Round One To Romney
October 3, 2012

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I don't know how many minds were changed by tonight's first presidential debate.  I suspect those who have already picked their guy are still going to vote for him. Of course, those are not the people that President Obama and former Governor Romney targeted in tonight's lively showdown in Denver.  They were going for the undecideds - and tonight's debate gave those folks plenty to ponder. Mitt Romney was clearly the aggressor and took his case to the President and the people. On several occasions, he effectively cut off the President in mid-argument to -- in his view -- correct the record.  Of course, fact-checkers will be debating the claims of both candidates for weeks. The President was more reserved -- almost professoria